Wolfmother, The Sword and Dungen: Irony Men
What the resulting massive sound makes abundantly clear is that Age of Winters, despite its lack of musical diversity, is remarkably focused in its execution. Songs are packed with unison guitar-and-bass riffs, but these are never arbitrarily strung together; rather, patterns weave in and out of each other, pull back or plunge forward, and occasionally collapse into themselves only to reemerge in different form, often by shifting tempo or fanning out into harmonized lines. Solos and guitar fills emerge from time to time, but for the most part all the instruments push forward as one solid mass. “The idea is to keep a constant rhythm going, and to alter things while staying in that groove,” says Cronise. “There’s always an unwavering beat, and the guitars, bass and vocals serve that.”
It’s a formula that was firmly set early in the Sword’s history—so early, in fact, that it predates the existence of the band. “I started writing the songs before we even formed,” says Cronise, who debuted much of the material that would eventually comprise Age of Winters at the Austin club Beerland in June 2002, as a solo act. “I played guitar and sang, and used prerecorded backing tracks for the bass and drums,” he says. “The general reaction from the audience was, “That’d be great…if you had a band!” He soon did, adding guitarist Shutt and bassist Richie, both veterans of the Texas metal scene, as well as drummer Wingo, with whom Cronise had played years earlier in a Virginia-based group called Ultimate Dragons.
While some critics contend that the music on Age of Winters is Sabbath-like and that the Sword are merely the newest entry in a long line of doomy retreads, Cronise doesn’t see it that way. “We’re not trying to live in some time warp and pretend it’s 1974,” he says. “I think some people see us as a retro band because current metal is so abrasive; it’s all about being angry and pissed-off. But we’re about much more than that.
“Plus, I’m not an especially angry guy. So yeah, I could sit around and write a bunch of pissed-off songs, but they’d never sound as pissed-off as other people’s pissed-off songs, anyway. So why bother?”
Dungen are perhaps the most idiosyncratic of the current crop of rock revivalists. The Swedish four-piece functions primarily as the vehicle for the songs of 26-year-old multi-instrumentalist Gustav Ejstes. The band’s influences range from the predictable (the Beatles, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix) to the peculiar (Sixties Swedish experimental rock collective Parson Sound, Norwegian avant-garde guitarist Terje Rypdal, old-school hip-hop acts Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions), and it is this union of classic-rock comfort music and more adventurous sensibilities that is at the heart of Dungen’s appeal. The songs on the band’s most recent release, Ta Det Lugnt (Kemado), brim with gorgeous melodies and hooky choruses, but also hold many jarring and unusual twists: sunny folk-pop strummers are desecrated by gloomy melodies, proggy epics are colored with chirping flutes and weepy fiddles, crunchy acid-rock workouts simmer into jazzy breakdowns, and the whole affair is shot through with the frenzied, fuzzdrenched lead playing of guitarist Reine Fiske.
Released in the summer of 2004 on the small Swedish boutique label Subliminal Sounds, Ta Det Lugnt was initially available on these shores only as a pricey import. Yet, in short order, the album began garnering much critical praise and online word-of-mouth buzz for its shockingly authentic approximation of Sixties-era psychedelic rock—if Sixties-era psychedelic rock featured lyrics sung entirely in Swedish. The band’s early stateside performances increased the level of chatter, and a U.S. deal was eventually inked with Kemado, which reissued Ta Det Lugnt in August, 2005 as a double-disc set that paired the original disc with a five-song bonus EP. “There are a lot of people who listen to us back home,” says Ejstes, “but it’s definitely bigger at this point in America.”
Dungen are presently in the midst of their first U.S. headlining tour in support of Ta Det Lugnt, which, almost two years after its initial release, continues to draw new listeners taken by the stunning breadth of its musical scope. The album’s opening track, “Panda,” kicks off with a tumbling drum fill that approximates the sound of Keith Moon soundchecking on John Bonham’s kit, and is then joined by hiccupping distorted guitars, a percolating bass line and Ejstes’ smooth, drawn-out vocal. The sublime “Du ar For Fin For Mig” begins as a mournful ballad built on a bed of strummed acoustic guitars, reverberated flutes and swelling fiddles (the latter played by Ejstes’ father, Lars-Olaf), then shifts into an inspired extended instrumental section, while “Om Du Vore En Vakthund” drops the listener in the middle of the Mars Volta jamming “Third Stone From the Sun.” The album ends with the Sabbath-y “Sluta Folja Efter,” its murky doom riffs spiked with shards of piercing, practically unhinged guitar feedback. “Life is very up and down,” says Ejstes, “and my songs are a reflection of that. Music is feeling, and it is always going to be both joyous and sad.”
Raised in the small village of Lanna, Sweden, Ejstes was surrounded by music from an early age. He would listen to his father, an accomplished fiddle player, teach traditional folk songs to local musicians, and at the same time absorbed a healthy dose of the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix from his mother’s record collection. Along the way Ejstes taught himself to play a variety of instruments, from fiddle to piano to guitar. “We had a lot of instruments around the house, and I just started to make noise,” he says.
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